Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Show Goes On For Pat Benatar

After an undisputed victory on love’s battlefield, and time off to have her second child, Pat Benatar re-emerged from the wings to once more stand centre stage during late ‘84.  The song to return Benatar to the forefront of the music scene was the anthemic ‘We Belong’.  The beautifully crafted song was seductive and alluring from first listen, and the chorus couldn’t help capture listeners’ attention with its melodic charms.  ‘We Belong’ was backed by a simple but effective performance style video featuring Pat and her band - this was the video style that was favoured by Benatar and husband/producer Neil Giraldo, and was something which captured the spirit and essence of the song.  For much of the video, a then heavily pregnant Pat Benatar (the video was shot in advance of album/single release) is standing in front of a full children’s choir.  ‘We Belong’ became the second single in a row to push Benatar into the US Top 5 (OZ#7/UK#22) and considerably increased her profile in Britain.

‘We Belong’ was the lead out single for Benatar’s sixth album, ‘Tropico’ (US#14/ UK#34/OZ#9/ CA#21), and the second of her albums which I purchased.  The platinum album, which features a spellbinding front cover, signalled a departure of sorts from Benatar’s more straight forward rock chick belting out guitar driven anthems approach, to a mildly tempered palette of musical styles.  That was evidenced by the second single, ‘Ooh Ooh Song’ (US#36/OZ#78), penned by Benatar and Giraldo.  The track, released in early ’85, is a personal favourite of this author, and featured nonsensical lyrics covered in layers of rockabilly and bubblegum pop.  The accompanying music video was suitably eclectic, some might say eccentric, but altogether a tongue in cheek affair that captured the essence of the song’s fun flavour. The third single, ‘Painted Desert’, was a slow tempo, slow burning affair, backed by a location shoot video complete with car wrecks in the desert, but failed to chart, whilst the fourth single ‘Diamond Field’ missed the Hot 100 action but reached a very respectable #20 on the U.S. mainstream rock chart.

Pat Benatar re-emerged in rock chick guise for the June ‘85 release of the single ‘Invincible (Theme From
The Legend Of Billie Jean)’ (US#10/ OZ#23/ UK#53), the song penned by Holly Knight and Simon Climie (see previous Climie & Fisher post), and featured in the film flop of the same name.  The track was a more straight forward power-pop/guitar rock affair and was backed by a music video featuring Pat and her band wandering through subway tunnels, intercut by a big budget performance stage, and clips from the film.  The chorus from the song is every bit as melodically entrancing as the likes of ‘Shadows Of The Knight’.  ‘Invincible (Theme From The Legend Of Billie Jean)’ was released ahead of Benatar’s seventh album, the aptly titled ‘Seven The Hard Way’, but was included to accompany eight other tracks recorded specifically for the album.

In August of ‘85, Pat Benatar contributed vocals to the protest single ‘Sun City’ (OZ#4/ UK#21/ US#33) by Artists United Against Apartheid, a project organised by guitarist Little Stevie and also featuring the vocal
talents of Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Cliff, Jackson Browne, Clarence Clemons and Bono.  The first single released specifically from the ‘Seven The Hard Way’ (US#26/ OZ#19/ UK#69) set was the rock with attitude ‘Sex As A Weapon’ (US#28/ OZ#33/ UK#67) released late in ‘85, and wasn’t a million miles away from a Robert Palmer ‘Simply Irresistible-esque’ sound, and was accompanied by a clever, tech savvy music video.  The third single, ‘Le Bel Age’ (OZ#86/US#54), was a more laid back, sultry affair and was accompanied by a suitably stylised music video featuring Ms. Benatar in lounge singer mode, harking back to her early pre-recording career.

Pat Benatar then took an extended hiatus from recording and touring to focus on her duties as a mother.  In late ‘87 the compilation album ‘Best Shots’ placed the Benatar moniker front and centre on the charts (OZ#19/UK#6/US#67).

By mid ‘88, Benatar was ready to retake the charts by storm, and did so with the release of the rocking

firecracker of a song, ‘All Fired Up’ (OZ#6/UK#19/US#19), a cover of the 1985 song by Australian band the Rattling Sabres.  The accompanying music video was a straight forward performance affair with black and white intercut with slow motion effects typical of late 80s/early 90s music videos.  The song featured on Pat Benatar’s 8th studio album, the quirkily titled ‘Wide Awake In Dreamland’ (OZ#10/UK#11/US#28), the first Benatar album to chart higher in the UK than the US.  The slow tempo ‘One Love (Song For The Lion)’ (UK#59), a tribute to Bob Marley, followed and was backed by a music video that on reflection neither Pat Benatar or Neil Giraldo felt suited the songs ambience.

The single ‘Don’t Walk Away’ (UK#42/OZ#62 - co written by Nick Gilder - see previous post) for some strange reason was shot on location at the same property that the TV show ‘Bonanza’ was shot.  I purchased the 45 of the single, based on the crystal, call to arms vocal style of Benatar in the chorus.  A fourth single, ‘Let’s Stay Together’, was released but the up tempo percussion driven track failed to chart.  In track commentary on
the ‘Choice Cuts’ DVD, Pat Benatar is heard to remark on her hairstyle’s resemblance to the character Elaine from ‘Seinfeld’ in the accompanying music video.

Benatar then laid low for the next couple of years before emerging in early ‘91 with an album which represented a radical departure from her previous body of work.  ‘True Love’ (US#37/UK#40/OZ#42) featured a collection of songs firmly planted in the blues/R&B/soul world.  An absence of crunching electric guitar riffs, and dominant keyboard hooks was supplanted by a more raw, blues bar combo sound.  Pat Benatar, guitarist Neil Giraldo, and drummer Myron Grombacher, were backed by the blues combo Roomful Of Blues.  The title track (penned by Benatar and Giraldo) featured Benatar’s seductive vocal stylings layered over a slow cookin’ instrumental background, and was
accompanied by a highly stylised music video.  The album may have been devoid of mainstream chart hits but it reminded the world of just how malleable and diverse a singer Pat Benatar can be.  The B.B. King cover ‘Payin’ The Cost To Be Boss’ did find sufficient audience to reach #17 on the US mainstream rock chart, but the beautifully lustrous, and sultry ‘So Long’ missed a single buying audience, in spite of the seaside memories music video.

Following the radical stylistic departure that was ‘True Love’, Pat Benatar returned to her power-pop/rock roots for 1993’s ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ (US#85), with all twelve tracks penned in house.  The lead out single, ‘Somebody’s Baby’ (UK#48), was a stripped back, straight rock, affair and was backed by yet another black and white style video (they really were all the rage back in the day), though both Benatar and Giraldo were happy with the video’s straight forward approach in relating to the song (ie. the song’s message didn’t get lost in translation).  The Lenny Kravitz-esque ‘Everybody Lay Down’ did find
a home at #3 on the US mainstream rock chart.  Other album highlights include the intimate ‘You & I’, and the bubbling to the surface rock of ‘Disconnected’.  By this stage, the Chrysalis label wasn’t throwing a lot of promotional support at Benatar’s material, which in part could explain the lack of commercial success.

Over the next decade, Pat Benatar continued to tour year in and year out, but only released three studio albums of new material, 1997’s ‘Innamorata’ (US#171), a largely acoustic affair, featuring the very tasty track ‘Strawberry Wine’, 2001’s ‘Christmas In America’ featuring the single of the same name (US#22 - adult contemporary chart), and 2003’s ‘Go’ (US#187 - US#9 Independent albums), the title track of which proves Benatar had lost none of her scorching vocal chords.  These latter releases found Benatar releasing her work on independent labels, but only the most ardent Pat Benatar fans were seeking out her new material by that time.

Though studio releases have been few and far between for Benatar over the past twenty years, she has
maintained a strong presence on the live tour circuit, resulting in several live album releases, including 2005’s ‘Summer Vacation Tour Live’.  In October 2010, Pat Benatar delighted Australian fans with a sell out tour accompanied by the Bangles (see future post), and went on to tour New Zealand and the US with Cheap Trick (see previous posts).

In  a career that now spans over 35 years, Pat Benatar has proven an enduring powerhouse in the pantheon of pop/rock vocalists, and though the hits may now be consigned to ‘Best Of’ collections and radio retro lists, she has established a considerable legacy in popular music, one to be celebrated well into the future.

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